Gospel Pass loop from Abergavenny

I’d been looking forward to riding this route, which bisects the Black Mountains on the highest road pass in Wales. And – despite three punctures and some ill-advised fish and chips – it didn’t disappoint.

Specialized Roubaix bike pictured at Gospel Pass above Hay-on-Wye

This was a loop of two halves: the first from Abergavenny along the towpath of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, the second following National Cycle Network routes through Talgarth and then across the Black Mountains via Gospel Pass and back to Abergavenny. I chose this anticlockwise direction because I wanted to finish the ride with the rush of the 19km-descent down the Vale of Ewyas, from Gospel Pass through the village of Llanthony and its ruined priory. This was to be my reward.

I was prepared for some challenges on the way, but I didn’t expect the first one to confront me as I stepped from the train at Abergavenny. My front tyre was completely flat. I must have picked up a puncture on the half-mile ride from my house to the station. How unlucky is that? No matter, I put in a new tube and then weaved my way through the outskirts of town, crossing the River Usk to join the canal.

Had I been travelling this way in the early nineteenth century I could have expected to see the canal busy with coal boats – in 1809 alone, 150,000 tonnes of the stuff shipped from wharves along the River Usk to the docks in Newport. Today, the canal serves the leisure industry and I encountered only the occasional narrow boat and a swan or two.

A gentle 35km or so on the towpath provided the perfect warm up. But the wet weather of recent days didn’t provide the perfect conditions for my road bike’s tyres. The detritus washed across the path obviously included a few thorns as I was soon fixing my second puncture. As I neared Brecon, I picked up my third.

The tyre was only deflating slowly, so I pushed on – stopping occasionally to top up the air. Luckily, Brecon has a good bike shop – Biped Cycles – so I called in to get a couple more tubes. Next I needed fuel for me.

I’d forgotten my lock so it would have to be something that didn’t involve straying far from the bike. As I rode towards the edge of town searching for a good option, I decided just to grab some fish and chips and guzzle them outside the shop. Comforting? Yes. Ideal cycling food? No.

The takeaway sat heavily as I followed National Cycle Network route 8 towards Glasbury, with digesting seeming to take more energy than pedalling. I didn’t exactly feel prepared for what lay ahead as I turned on to the start of the 400m climb towards Gospel Pass. The title of the Strava segment for this part of the ride says it all: The Hard Way up Hay Bluff.

It was certainly a tough climb, but the rewards outweighed the effort. Before long I emerged from hedge-lined lanes on to open hillside, the views wrapping around me and the Bluff looming ahead. I ground my way on, through a small ford and on to the last stretch of the climb to Gospel Pass. Rounding the final bend I summited the pass and pulled over to take in the view ahead of me down the valley towards Llanthony.

This was the highpoint, and the highlight, of the ride. It was all downhill from here – well, for 19km anyway.

97.98km | 1,012m ascent

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